FORMER Rose of Tralee judge Celia Holman Lee has paid tribute to Michaela Harte after her shocking murder.
The TV3 stylist and Limerick model agency owner was one of the judges in 2004, the year that Michaela represented Ulster in the Rose of Tralee and said you “couldn’t meet a nicer girl”.
“When I heard the news about poor Michaela, I got very upset. I wouldn’t have been a close friend to her but I did know her. I was the judge the year that she was in the contest and that girl had some serious style, she was fantastic.
“I remember I even said to her ‘if there was an award for style, you would win hands down.’ She was beautiful. You just know when you’ve met someone special. She was so well-educated, well-presented and so ladylike and generous in her time.
“The year I judged it, I got to know all the girls and I remember her well. As the years went on, a lot of the Roses do come back to the festival and you would sit down with them and have a catch-up, see how things are going for them.
“She was such an amazing, beautiful woman, I just can’t believe what has happened.”
Her tributes were echoed by Michaela’s escort during the Rose festival, sports physiotherapist Barry Mollaghan (33), from Longford.
Barry said he was “deeply saddened” by her violent death.
“I had the absolute privilege of being Michaela’s escort in 2004 – we became friends straight away. I am deeply saddened by her death, especially in such terrible circumstances. It is very hard to comprehend,” he added. Describing Michaela as a “thoroughbred lady to her fingertips”, Mr Mollaghan added: “I was immediately impressed by her.
“She was such a sincere and caring person and so full of life.
She had a unique relationship with her father and was the apple of his eye. She had a great love for her entire family - the threat of which ran though every aspect of her life.”
The year that she entered after winning the title of Ulster Rose, she was supported throughout her whole time by proud dad Mickey.
“She doesn’t miss any of my matches – so now it’s my turn to support her,” he said at the time.
She proved one of the most popular contestants among the 28 Roses and denied claims of any cattiness among the girls, saying they were all lovely.
On the night she took to the stage of the Dome, she was number 13 in the line-up and was quoted as saying how she hoped it would bring her good luck. It was the same number as her house, as well as her brother Mark’s jersey on the Tyrone squad.
When Michaela was chosen to represent Ulster in the Rose of Tralee competition in 2004, Mickey took pleasure in stepping into the role of support while she played leading lady.
Kilkenny Rose Orla O'Shea, who went on to win the Rose that year, described Michaela as “a true lady”.
“She was really gentle, but she was also great fun. . . she had a great sense of style, she was absolutely gorgeous,” she said.